jerusalem the golden

by ted spiegel, I believe this photograph is around 50 years old

I’ve been saving this picture. The strange thing is, I’d been looking for it for about four decades, since I saw it in National Geographic as a kid. I even searched for it online, once or twice. Then one day, it came across my Tumblr, out of the blue.

I was wanting to say something with it, about a legitimate place for beauty, and romance, in religious life– well, I’m not sure what I was planning to say. It was definitely deep. But anyway, I woke up this morning, and it occurred to me that I should post it today. I usually post a poppy picture, and some piece of WWI poetry on my other blog, mainly just for me to look at. I don’t know much about World War I, but even I know more than some people, and it’s always freaked me out a little how quickly such a perfect storm of horror could be forgotten– swept under the rug, even. When it was not only a catastrophe in itself, but the gateway to the 1984-like state of unending war we’re now apparently engulfed in.

When I was a kid, there were still WWI veterans downtown sometimes, selling artificial Flanders poppies. Otherwise, we don’t see much of that around here; our poppies are orange. But everyday life was flooded with WWII vets, like my dad, and while I’m sure there was some PTSD among them, they didn’t seem to spend a lot of time wondering what it was all for. They figured they knew that. War was hard, but not insane: you didn’t permanently lose your way in it– frankly, they tended to think war was a nice, straightforward answer to everything. Some things were worth fighting for, so you did what you had to do, even if it looked like it was jaw-droppingly brutal and crazy. Then good triumphed.

Look how old I am– I’m like a hundred years old, and I’m still not sure what I think. “Some things are worth fighting for” is a cliché, but sometimes I wonder if anything is worth fighting for. I remember reading that Dorothy Day said that maybe we would have the moral high ground if we had let the Ottomans overrun us, in the 17th century or whatever. I can’t really wrap my mind around that. Maybe it has to do with declining to fight against– then you have to be really clear about exactly what you’re holding out for.

I mean, it’s clear that a choice for non-violence doesn’t mean there’s not going to be violence. I’m always in awe of the kind of non-violent witness the Catholic Worker has presented to the war machine, over the years– plenty of violence involved there, they just changed its distribution. And Linda Maendel gives us this incredibly moving piece today on the Hutterite martyrs of World War I. I find it hard to imagine that kind of sustained courage. Non-violence draws violence and insanity to the surface. Is it transformative? I think you have to have a certain gift of faith to be convinced that it is, or even, to hope that it is.

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4 Responses to jerusalem the golden

  1. Thank you for your very thoughtful post. I hope you won’t mind my remarking that the thing about clichés is that they are often true. You’ve linked to my blog post using that word but must remember that I write as a European for whom the horrors of Nazism extended beyond armed combat. My mother’s family came originally from the Netherlands, which was occupied. Many Dutch people were transported to concentration camps and death camps on European soil. Others died of hunger in their own country as a result of the occupation. That is an experience that, thank God, the U.S. has not had; and I pray will never have. But it is why I deem some things worth fighting for. Not many, but some.

    • Rebecca says:

      There, I changed the link text– is that better? I suppose it is true that clichés are rooted in some kind of reality, but often they do more to obscure truth than illuminate it. I have a friend who responds to any kind of serious or complex discussion by saying ASAP “There are no easy answers.” She actually uses there are no easy answers as an easy answer, to avoid having to reflect or dispute! I think most clichés are meant to do just that: divert your thinking or imagery into a side channel, and shut it down.

      But anyway, I’m not disagreeing with you. I want to, but I can’t, quite; I can’t go the final mile with pacifism. You seem to have a pretty dim view of American intelligence, or experience, but plenty of horrifying things have happened here as well, and in addition, most of our families didn’t start out here. Our parents and grandparents were no strangers to atrocity– if Dorothy Day could think calmly about the Ottomans overrunning Europe, I certainly can’t.

      Mostly I’m just arguing with myself. I would think I would be past this, but I’m not. If some things are worth fighting for, as in actually making war, then what things? Given the shape of modern warfare, can we even talk about just war? How would the apostles and the early martyrs have responded to the circumstances of WWII? The early church was clearly pacifist, and they also knew a thing or two about atrocity. Basically I’m asking, if we decide to fight, then how do we fight? What, in the end, really makes things better?

  2. jo liow says:

    Thank you Rebecca for dropping by. . . I shall visit you again.

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